Now that the famous study that linked autism to the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella has been debunked, what's a parent to do?
Contact your pediatrician to discuss getting your child vaccinated, said Dr. Paul Glaser, a University of Kentucky psychiatrist who has worked with many families of autistic children.
"I really want the word out there that vaccines do not cause autism," Glaser said.
An investigation recently published by the British Medical Journal concluded that Dr. Andrew Wakefield misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study. The now-discredited paper scared many parents and led to a sharp decrease in the number of children getting the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella.
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That study, Glaser said, "made a connection that no one else had seen in (a medical) practice."
Getting vaccines, he said, is doing "what's best for your child."
Children typically receive their first dose of the vaccine as toddlers, and they receive the second about the time they start school. Glaser said, though, that doctors can use alternative schedules. There isn't an age when a child becomes too old to receive the vaccine, he said.
Parents still unsure about vaccination should talk to their doctors about the impact of the illnesses that the vaccine helps avoid. Because those illnesses had become fairly rare, people have forgotten how deadly they can be, he said.
In the United Kingdom, vaccination rates went from 92 percent before Wakefield's findings were released to below 80 percent after they were released, Glaser said.
The results in the United States were less dramatic but significant.
There has been an increase in infections and deaths in children because of measles, mumps and rubella. It also has resulted in outbreaks of those diseases on college campuses.
"There has been an increase in all vaccine-avoidable illnesses," he said.
It's understandable that parents might see a link between the vaccination and the disease, Glaser said. An infant usually gets a shot at 12 to 15 months old. That's about when toddlers are developing their social skills. Before that, they couldn't show the personality difficulties that define autism.
"Parents are naturally angry sometimes if they have a child with autism, and they want to blame something, and it's easy to blame the vaccines," he said.
The controversy over the use of vaccines has been passionate, he said. The news of problems with the study will help to push some parents off the fence about the issue. But, he said, there will be holdouts who refuse to get their children vaccinated.
"I think it is going to convince some but not all," he said.